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Media Companies Like Vox Are Feeding Their Journalists’ Work Into An AI Wood Chipper

One affected writer has called it a 'Devil's Bargain'

Both Vox Media and The Atlantic announced deals with OpenAI today that will see their journalist's work fed to the platform in exchange for some money and attribution on generated results.

Vox say the deal will allow the network--which owns sites like The Verge, Polygon, SB Nation and Eater--to "develop products to better serve its audiences and advertisers". The actual reasons, though, are clear: OpenAI is making deals like this (they've recently reached similar agreements with News Corp, AP and the Financial Times) to head off future lawsuits, like the one the New York Times is currently engaged in, while Vox and The Atlantic's owners are also happy to contribute to their own ultimate demise by taking any money they can, even if it's from (one of the many) parties with a vested interest in killing them off.

It's grim! There's no way to see this as anything other than a huge win for OpenAI, a company that keeps raising billions of dollars by promising things its machine-learning platform can't actually do, and hoodwinking entire swathes of the economy in the process. To see journalism outlets--one of the few places we should expect serious examination of, if not outright resistance to, OpenAI's business model--roll over like this is extremely depressing.

Putting aside the money here for a second--while Vox's figures weren't revealed, the News Corp deal is worth a reported $250 million--what does this mean to the people doing the actual work at these outlets? Their bosses just signed a lucrative business deal with a company that could be breaking several laws around the world. How are we supposed to trust them to report accurately on anything AI-related--one of the big issues of our time!--when OpenAI has cashed a cheque with ownership? The Verge's story on the deal reads like they're reporting on another outlet entirely, but this a website that famously extolled the virtues of NFTs; how can readers trust them to report critically on AI after this?

The answer is we can't. I know people at The Verge and other Vox sites who do great work, and a deal like this will hopefully at least help keep them employed while so many other media jobs are flushed down the toilet. No matter what those individuals think of the arrangement though, or even what they write about it (The Atlantic's Damon Beres has since published a pretty critical piece on the deal, calling it a "Devil's Bargain"!), every time a journalist at any website with one of these contracts goes to write about AI, we'll be picturing Sam Altman standing behind them with a big novelty cheque. That's how ethics and the optics of ethics--often the same thing--work!

It sounds pathetically dramatic to say this, I know, but it's also true: this undermines everything the websites do from here on out, and cuts their good reporters and critics and video people off at the knees (something the writers and their unions are very aware of when you see the tweets embedded below). It's a public signal that the human work of these people means jack shit to their owners, who are more interested in rolling over for the latest Silicon Valley snake oil salesman than making any real investment in journalism.

But this is the future. This is the only road corporate-owned media have left to stumble down. When the ad money dries up and Google Search becomes useless, where else to go but taking money from a company selling something trained to take most of your staff's jobs?

If you're interested in tech news, please consider reading and subscribing to 404 Media. Sports and politics? Defector. And if you read The Atlantic...who am I kidding nobody reading the Atlantic is reading this blog.

(If you're a worker at Vox and would like to speak to us about how you and your colleagues are feeling about the deal, you can get in touch with us here).

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